News Releases

New NSF-funded Program Improves Interaction, Retention for Engineering Students

The Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has been selected to participate in ENGAGE, a five-year program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Cockrell School is one of 10 schools to receive a $12,000 grant for the program, which supports and advocates the use of three research-based strategies – particularly in the first two years when engineering students are most at risk to change majors.

ENGAGE works with schools to provide training, materials and technical assistance to improve instruction in engineering and faculty-student mentoring skills. It uses research-based strategies to enhance the retention of engineering students, particularly women of all races and ethnicities. The three strategies include

  • Improve and increase interaction between faculty and students
  • Illustrate engineering concepts in courses by using everyday examples that are familiar to students
  • Improve students' spatial visualization skills

Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering Program (WEP) and a team leader for the ENGAGE program at the university, said students have already started participating in spatial visualization pilot testing. For the pilot test, all Women in Engineering Program First-year Interest Group participants were tested on their spatial visualization skills. Based on their test scores, 22 students were invited to participate in the skills training.

"Students raised their test scores 15 percent by participating in the five training classes, increasing the average test score to above the passing score," Berry said.

Additionally, The University of Texas at Austin ENGAGE team plans to improve student and faculty interaction by developing "Connection Classes," where students receive 25 minutes of dynamic interaction with faculty members to encourage enriched curriculum and dialog.

One ENGAGE recommendation is that instructors take the time to illustrate an engineering principle in an engineering course, or give students tours of labs.

"One of the challenges is to get the message out to our faculty that they have tremendous power and influence to make a critical difference in the undergraduate experience of our students," Berry said. "Research suggests that words of encouragement, insight or guidance offered by faculty can boost a student's morale and performance."

Susan Metz, ENGAGE's principal investigator, echoed the importance of faculty involvement in the program.

"ENGAGE's success is dependent largely on the willingness of engineering faculty to participate," she said. "We are counting on the fact that engineering faculty want their students to succeed and will devote a small amount of time to do a few things a little differently."

ENGAGE is a NSF GSE Extension Service Project predicated on the successful Cooperate Extension Service model at state land-grant institutions. It provides resources and expertise to engineering schools, enabling them to create an academic and social environment that helps students succeed. The 10 universities were selected from 30 schools that applied to be a part of the program's first year. By the fourth year of the project, 30 schools will be involved with ENGAGE.

For more information, contact Tricia Berry at 512-471-5650 or tsberry@mail.utexas.edu.